Title Reviewed:
And They All Sang Hallelujah: Plain-Folk Camp-Meeting Religion, 1800–1845

Author Reviewed:
Dickson D. Bruce, Jr.

Kenneth R. Walker


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 71, Issue 3, pp 279-280

Article Type:
Book Review

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And They All Sang Hallelujah: Plain-Folk Camp-Meeting Religion, 1800–1845. By Dickson D. Bruce, Jr. (Knoxville: The University of Tennessee Press, 1974. Pp. xii, 155. Notes, maps, illustrations, bibliography, indexes. $7.50.)

In the last paragraph of his introduction Bruce succinctly states what he is attempting to accomplish in his book:

This study begins with the context in which camp-meeting religion grew up and flowered: first, with a description of plain-folk life and an interpretation of their place in the Southern world; second, with an account of the Methodist and Baptist churches as Southern institutions and of the camp-meeting as a practice. Once the context of camp-meeting religion has been described, it then becomes possible to set out the contents of the plain-folk religious belief system. To do this, there is an examination of the structure and content of the camp-meeting and its relationship to the central purpose of Southern evangelical religion, conversion. Then the study turns to the spiritual songs in order to outline what most of those who were converted proclaimed their salvation to mean. Finally, the study comes full circle to examine again the plain-folk and their lives, but at that point to see what camp-meeting religion did for those who gave themselves over to it (p. 12).

Generally, Bruce does a good job of accomplishing the goals which are outlined in his introduction. His description of plain folk life and his interpretation of its role in the southern world is generally accurate. However, considering the political activity of the plain folk which contributed to the democratizing of southern state governments during the first half of the nineteenth century, Bruce is on somewhat shaky ground when he says: "they were nevertheless outside the political and economic processes of the South" (p. 123).

In describing the camp meeting and the conversion experience, Bruce gives one of the most thorough and objective accounts that this reviewer has read. He also gives an in depth discussion of the religious concepts which are present in the spiritual choruses. In the last chapter, in which Bruce discusses the benefits which the frontier people derived from camp meetings, one especially receives the impression that the author is very careful to give a detached appraisal.

Overall, Bruce has made a significant contribution in his examination of the role of the camp meeting experience in southern frontier life. Not only is the study historical, but it is sociological and psychological as well. Except for the one point in interpretation noted above, this work is impressive in its accuracy and comprehensiveness. And They All Sang Hallelujah is the most compact, thorough, and objective study on the role and nature of the camp meeting on the southern frontier that this reviewer has seen. Winner of the first James Mooney Award, sponsored by the Southern Anthropological Society, this book would be a most valuable addition to all college and secondary school libraries.

Arkansas Polytechnic College, Russellville Kenneth R. Walker

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.